A Catholic parish in southern India has become an inspiration to many after it stepped in to distribute free face masks after panic over the coronavirus pushed up prices and caused a huge shortage. “We found even police personnel, drivers and nurses among others working in hospitals and other vulnerable places without protective masks risking their lives after the breakout of the coronavirus in the state,” said Father Sebstian Karukapally, parish priest of Little Flower Latin Church in Pottakuzhy of Ernakula district in Kerala state. So far 24 persons have tested positive for the deadly viral disease in the state. "The total number of people under surveillance has reached 12,450, of whom 270 are in hospitals and the rest under home quarantine," said Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan. The state has suspended classes up to high school level and advised people not to venture out in public unless it is essential in a bid to halt the spread of the disease. It has also intensified searches for people who were in contact with those tested positive.
The government has advised people to avoid close contact with others and urged them to wear masks when they leave their homes. The announcement caused panic among people who rushed to buy masks, but there is a huge shortage and prices have shot up. “I discussed the problem with parishioners and decided to start stitching masks and distributing them for free,” Father Karukapally told UCA News. “As I got a very positive response from parishioners, we started our mission with five sewing machines on March 11 and following Sunday Mass a public announcement was also made appealing for people to support our mission. “It was amazing. The following day the number of sewing machines rose to 35 and more and more volunteers from different religions joined us and started stitching masks free of cost.” “We initially set a target of 20,000 masks using money from the parish reserve fund and also donations from a few generous people.” The public soon took up the mission to make masks. “Now we have stitched and distributed more than 30,000 masks and 17 parishes in the Latin diocese have joined the movement and many dioceses in the state have also joined to make it a huge success,” said Sereena John, president of Pottakuzhy Parish. “We are distributing the materials we get free of charge to other parishes and dioceses that have agreed to join the mission as it will reduce the time in stitching and distribution. “As we distribute more masks free of cost, the shortage and exorbitant prices will be a thing of past.” The parish already has enough material to stitch more than 60,000 masks and 90 people are working 12-hour shifts free of cost to tide over the crisis. Those engaged in stitching reach the center at 10am and work until 10pm. They are provided with lunch, tea and dinner. “Some people provide sewing machines, others provide materials for the masks, others offer free services and others provide food and drinks, making it a truly community-cum-family affair,” Father Karukapally said. The parish does not give masks to individuals. Instead they are distributed through the responsible associations of beneficiaries. “When we were told about the mission, we took up it happily with full confidence that we can make it a success. Now with others joining it, it has become a public movement”, said Biju Vellayamparampil, a parishioner associated with the project. According to official figures, the number of coronavirus cases in India has risen to 142 and three people have died.
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